Screen Time

by | Dec 7, 2021 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Four

Sophie is 6 years old, and she’s running out of ideas. But she knows how to concentrate. She raises her eyebrows, lowers the corners of her mouth, and holds. It is uncomfortable, but necessary.

“Sophie,” her mother laughs, looking up. “What’s with the face?”

“It’s my face!” Sophie answers, then considers. “It’s my face.”

“You should video that,” her father says, buttering his bread.

“She’ll stop soon as I try,” her mother sighs. She thinks Sophie’s father has taken too much butter, she saw a post about just this thing, but she decides not to comment.

“I won’t,” Sophie says to her mother. She looks at her father, “I won’t!”

Neither of her parents says anything. Sophie fixes her eyebrows up and mouth corners down for as long as she can. She traces with her finger along her browline, down to her mouth, across, and up. She feels the four points. She is a rectangle, of that she’s almost sure. Nobody is watching her, of this she’s definitely sure. She slowly but deliberately brings her hands to grip the edge of the table.

“Soph…” her father murmurs a warning, not looking up. “You know better.”

She feels the smooth ages of the table. She remembers how satisfying it is to grab them tight and shake. “BZZZT!” she buzzes, and the table vibrates. “BZZZT!” But then she remembers the last time, when milk spilled, and her parents yelled. Bath time with no toys. Bedtime with no story. She lets her hands fall and finishes her dinner in silence.

**

The next day, Sophie’s mother and Sophie’s mother’s friend Courtney are driving somewhere. Sophie is in the back seat. She speaks quietly at first, “Hey guys.” She wants to get this right, “Hey guys!” “Hey guuuuys!” “Hey guys!”

Courtney turns around in her seat. “Hey yourself, Sophie-Dopher. What are you doing?”

Sophie smiles so you can see all her teeth, “Hey guys! Heyyyy guys, it’s me!” “Hey guys!” “I’m back!”

Courtney grabs her phone and nudges Sophie’s mother, “I have to get this, do you know what this is?”

Sophie’s mother looks over her sunglasses to the rearview mirror, “I have no idea.”

Courtney aims the phone at Sophie. Sophie complies. “Hey guys! Heyyy! Hey guys! Hey it’s me! Hey guys! I’m back! Hey!” Courtney covers her mouth. She is laughing but doesn’t want to be heard. This is Sophie’s moment.

**

That night, in the kitchen, Sophie’s mother shows Sophie’s father the video on her phone. He stirs the sauce in the pot as he watches. “Hey guys” Sophie’s voice sounds small and tinny. In spite of her efforts to conceal herself, you can still hear Courtney’s squeak of a laugh. “Hey it’s me! Hey guys!”

From the kitchen table, Sophie beams. Her mother and father love this video. She imitates herself, “Hey guys!” she says. She giggles. “Hey guys, I’m back.” Her father looks from the video to Sophie and holds his head in mock frustration. “Ahh!” he says, “Too much Sophie!”

“HEY GUYS!” she shrieks, standing on her chair now. “HEY GUYS IT’S ME, I’M BACK HEY GUYS!”

Sophie’s mother laughs, “Okay, enough now. Dinner’s almost ready.”

“HEY GUYS DINNER’S ALMOST READY!” Sophie repeats. “DON’T FORGET TO SUBSCRIBE!” “HEY GUYS!”

Sophie’s father slams down his stirring spoon, which means, “enough.” He turns around and his voice is very loud, “Enough!”

Sophie sits. She feels hot tears. She doesn’t move for a moment. Sophie’s mother puts three plates in the centre of the table. It’s Sophie’s job to put each plate in its place. Her mother gives her a look that says, “Do it.” Sophie grabs the edge of the table. She shakes, “BZZT!” The plates fall. “BZZT!”

**

From her bedroom, she can’t hear anything. She supposes her parents are eating dinner, but maybe they are so mad at Sophie that they’re just sitting by themselves being mad. Sophie hates being by herself, even when she’s bad. Especially when she’s bad. She makes her face and traces her four corners. Maybe it won’t be enough to have a face like a rectangle screen, she thinks. Maybe she needs lots of answers. “The temperature is 75 degrees,” she tries. Then she tries to make her voice sound more like that lady’s. “The temperature is 75 degrees.”

She thinks about the time she was walking downstairs, and her father was on the couch, and she saw his screen and there was a lady wearing no clothes at all. When Sophie took her next step, her father heard her, and he pressed something, and his screen went black. Maybe Sophie should act silly like babies, or funny like puppies or goats. Maybe she shouldn’t wear clothes. She made her screen face once more and felt herself powering down. She had to do something, she thought, so people would pay attention.

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